Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Wrap-up (Sean)

I promised earlier to come back and fill in some gaps in my coverage of Friday and Saturday. Since then, Louise has posted her report, and she's covered many of those points. Louise also takes better notes than I do -- I'm a slow writer, and all my life I have had the problem that I can either pay attention and be present with what is being said, or take notes, but not both. I won't rehash the items that Louise has already covered.

I wrote on Friday that I would explain my "nay" vote on the SOC on "Creating Peace." In hindsight, when I reflect upon those reasons, I should have simply abstained. What it really came down to for me was that the "Calls to Action," while laudable in purpose, struck me as overly burdensome (as I have written elsewhere) for congregations that, in many cases, are struggling for their very existence. As I have said before, I am concerned that we are asking them to expend a great deal of energy and resources on a goal (world peace) that is largely beyond our influence.

Spending the same amount of effort on, for example, marriage equality, or more outreach to those marginalized in our society such as people of color, LGBT, or recent immigrants, would have more of an effect in the world (and, yes, I know that we are already working on those issues). That being said, if the delegates, who theoretically represent their congregations, are willing to step up and take on this challenge, who am I to suggest it is too much. (Although I must repeat my oft-stated concern that perhaps the very congregations that are already stretched too thin are the ones who are not sending delegates to GA.)

That's a good segue into one of my wrap-up points, which is that I am convinced now more than ever that the GA business process is broken and needs to be fixed. That goes hand in hand with the Association's organizational structure being byzantine and cumbersome, a fact that is now recognized by the board and is being addressed. But, as I wrote last year, I am most looking forward to a more robust democratic process as proposed by the Fifth Principle Task Force, wherein a much smaller number of delegates who are more focused and empowered will carry on the business of the association. Funding for delegates and a stronger mandate to bring with them the will of their congregations and carry back the action items will, I hope, lead to more intentional and purposed actions at GA.

On Sunday morning I wrote that I would have more to say about the Phoenix discussion Saturday afternoon. Since then, as Louise has written, we received some clarification and background from Gini during her Moderator's Report. And, not having gone to the mini-assemblies on the topic (in hindsight, a mistake on my part), it is not reasonable to be too critical of the resolution that ended up before us. What I can say, though, is that more time could have been spent sharing with the assembly how the compromised was reached, and, more importantly, what was the shared vision of how the 2012 event would look.

At one point in the debate on the floor I went to the Procedural microphone to ask just what the BOT considered the "minimum business" of the assembly, and whether the proposal implied an overall event that was much smaller, much larger, or about the same size as a "normal" GA (whatever that means). I got a dismissive answer to my first question (they defined the term, rather than enumerating the list of required business), and no answer whatsoever to my second. When I sat back down, I turned to Louise and said that I must not have been clear, and she immediately shot back that, no, my question was crystal clear and the Board and Moderator chose not to answer it. We had dinner later with three other delegates who all concurred with her assessment.

On Sunday, Gini asked for a show of hands of the assembled delegates during her report, on several questions. One was whether everyone understood that what was asked for was a much larger event than a normal GA, and it was clear to me at that point that this was the answer to my question that she was unwilling to give before the vote. This does strike me as an aberration in the democratic process; if that was the vision of the framers of the resolution (as amended in mini-assembly), then it should have been stated thus, especially under direct questioning.

I suppose I have an axe to grind in all this, because Louise and I happen to own (with about a half dozen partners) a pair of restaurants in downtown Phoenix, just a short walk from the convention center and most of the hotels. (And we do hope that you'll dine with us in Phoenix.) I was well-prepared with a 2-minute "con" speech for the original resolution (an outright boycott of Phoenix), which went something like this:
  • Neither we nor our partners support SB1070 (but most of us being out-of-state, we don't have a vote).
  • If any of the businesses around ours ever supported this bill, I can assure you they don't any longer.
  • The economy nearly put us out of business, and SB1070 is threatening to be the final nail in the coffin. We send money to Phoenix every month now just to keep the doors open.
  • We do that not only to protect our investment, but also to keep our workers employed. Many of those workers are Latino/Latina.
  • Phoenicians in general are not supportive of this legislation and that includes the Mayor and the police department.
  • As with all boycotts, businesses like ours and their employees bear the true cost, and state legislators are unlikely to "hear" any message sent by people who don't show up.
  • How much more effective would it be for us as a movement to show up in force instead, and take our message to the streets?
I never had to deliver this, of course, and in the end we are pretty satisfied with the compromise. Someone else got up to speak against boycotting local businesses that are in many (most?) cases opposed to the bill. In the end, it was a contentious and divisive issue and I am impressed with the respect and thoughtfulness of the debate, the compromise, and the ultimate charge. That has not stopped some rancor, I note, on UU World over the outcome.

I think that mostly catches me up here. I have one more item to add, which is that we both very much enjoyed marching to Loring Park on Saturday to deliver our Standing on the Side of Love message at the Pride Festival. (Although that seems a bit like, uhh, preaching to the converted.) We had not realized the Twin Cities had such a large and well-organized festival; after listening to the speech we spent what time was left wandering around, and I would say we barely made it through a third of the enormous event.

In all, we had a great GA and, as always, we are grateful to the CLF for allowing us to participate as your delegates. We are also grateful to the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis for allowing us to park Odyssey in their parking lot, which we will be departing this afternoon.

One final note, for those reading here real-time or subscribed via RSS: today is the last day to make your donation to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) for this year's annual fund and have your gift matched by Shelter Rock. We've made our donation, have you?

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